Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand

Author: Cynthia Hand
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Pages: 435 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Call number: Y Hand
Read in March 2011

Summary (from Goodreads): Clara Gardner has recently learned that she’s part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn’t easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there’s another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara’s less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

My thoughts: I was unprepared to like this book, because the main character is a part-angel, part-human. I expected to roll my eyes a lot, but Hand manages to tell an excellent story. I did roll my eyes a few times, but that’s more of a reflection on me and my trouble suspending my disbelief for angels in the first place.

Clara is a refreshing heroine; she’s neither stupid nor preternaturally wise, she treats her family and her friends with respect (most of the time – nobody’s perfect), and while she’s good at a lot of things without trying (skiing, riding horses, etc.), she has to practice at the things that really matter (like flying without crashing into trees). Also, I liked that she doesn’t blindly follow her purpose once it conflicts with her experiences and feelings, and that she takes responsibility for the repercussions. I liked the push-pull tension of her feelings for Christian and for Tucker; normally, I don’t like love triangles, but Hand sets up this one realistically, without making any of the characters obviously “good for Clara” or “bad for Clara”. They both have appeal and she has the ability to choose (so far, at least).

I liked all of the mysteries in this story and the uncertainty we are left with at the end. It’s not just all about Clara’s purpose, though her figuring that out is obviously the main plot, and the slow, piece-by-piece revealing of the details holds the tension well (especially since we still haven’t learned why this is her purpose, a key piece of information). But it’s also about everybody else’s secrets: her mother’s job that seems to leave her so drained; her mother’s past with her own apparent love triangle; her brother’s sneaking around; her friend’s mysterious guy in Italy.

For a book about angels with a purpose, I think Hand did a remarkable job keeping religion out of the story. It’s kind of all predicated on the existence of God, and of Heaven and Hell, but it doesn’t take over the story; it’s transparent and possible to ignore. That may get harder to do in the sequels, but right now, the angel mythology has the right mix of practical and spiritual.

Overall, the great relationships among the characters and their many, many secrets (almost none of which are revealed) kept me reading and puts the next one at the top of my to-read pile.

(Cross-posted in slightly different form to Goodreads)

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